What Makes Baseball Teams a Target for Hacks?

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HomeBlogsChris Sloan's blogWhat Makes Baseball Teams a Target for Hacks?
What Makes Baseball Teams a Target for Hacks?
Chris Sloan

In the digital age, cybersecurity risks are everywhere - even in the world of professional baseball. 

While many fans focus solely on the action in the game, risks also occur outside of the field.

Teams and players must be vigilant about protecting their data and communications from cyberthreats: information breaches involving medical data or upcoming deals pose a huge risk.

One common entry point for hackers and cybercriminals? The smartphones and devices used by players, coaches, and team personnel.

Compromised devices or accounts can lead to serious breaches of sensitive team data, giving rivals an unfair competitive advantage. 

Let's take a look at some of the biggest cybersecurity concerns facing MLB teams and how they work to keep their digital assets secure.

Baseball’s High-Profile Hacks and Data Breaches

Baseball has already had its fair share of controversies involving hacking and the leaking of personal data and internal reports.

The Houston Astros Case

One of the most high-profile incidents of a data breach impacting the baseball world was the 2014 hacking of the Houston Astros' database and communications by an employee of the St. Louis Cardinals. 

The Cardinals’ scouting director, Chris Correa, illicitly accessed the Astros' database - scouting reports, statistics, and other proprietary data giving St. Louis an improper look into Houston's inner workings.

The hacking scheme was uncovered by MLB investigators. The employee, a former Astros staffer, was ultimately fired by the Cardinals and pleaded guilty to criminal charges. 

The Cardinals were forced to forfeit their top two draft picks and pay a $2 million fine as punishment from MLB. 

The incident showed how vulnerable even professional sports teams can be to data breaches and cyber espionage from rivals.

The Fancy Bears Attack

Another notable cyber incident related to baseball was the 2016 hack of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) by the Russian cyber espionage group known as "Fancy Bears" or "APT28." 

The hackers accessed WADA's database. They released confidential medical data on dozens of athletes across several sports, including baseball players. 

The leaked data revealed Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) that allowed players to use certain prohibited substances for approved medical reasons. 

While not necessarily nefarious, the release of this personal health data was a major breach of privacy for the affected athletes. It was a reminder that not only team data is at risk, but personal player information as well.

The Money Behind Cyber Threats

It's also important to consider the immense financial incentives that make MLB teams and players such appealing targets for cybercriminals. 

Baseball is a multi-billion dollar industry where even a minor illicit advantage in terms of proprietary data or insider information could be greatly monetized.

Modern sporting organizations, with all their data analytics tools, are essentially high-value technology companies in their own right. 

This makes the potential payouts from a successful cyber attack or data breach extremely lucrative for criminal hacking groups.  

Combine that with the high-stakes nature of pro sports, where even slight competitive advantages are obsessively pursued, and you have all the right conditions for cyber threat actors to relentlessly go after MLB teams' digital assets and data stores.

In a nutshell, here are a few reasons why MLB teams and players are at risk of being hacked: 

  • Valuable Targets – Baseball teams are like big businesses; hackers see them as easy money.
  • The Win – In sports, even small advantages matter a lot, which makes teams and players huge targets for hackers.
  • Big Money – Baseball is worth a lot of money, so stealing from teams can lead to a sizeable financial payout.

No other context demonstrates the need for robust mobile security, defense-in-depth cybersecurity practices, and ongoing investment quite like these significant financial drivers. 

Cyber Threats to Teams

Beyond high-profile hacking incidents that make headlines, baseball teams face a constant barrage of cyber threats and potential vulnerabilities they must guard against on a daily basis. 

Stealing Proprietary Data and Athlete Information

Like the Astros breach, one of the biggest risks is the theft or leaking of proprietary team data like scouting reports, stats, contract details, and other sensitive competitive information. 

Personal data on players, like medical records, could also be targeted.

Corporate Espionage and Rival Infiltration  

Just as the Cardinals employee infiltrated the Astros' database, teams must watch for corporate espionage attempts by rival clubs trying to improperly access their proprietary systems and data.

Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks

Cybercriminals frequently use phishing schemes and social engineering techniques to trick personnel into handing over login credentials or downloading malware onto team systems and devices.

Ransomware and Malware Threats

Ransomware and other malware aimed at locking down or extracting money from MLB teams and players is an ever-present risk in today's threat landscape.

With so much data, proprietary information, and personal details to protect, MLB teams have become a tempting target for both cybercriminals looking for financial gain and rival clubs hoping to steal a competitive edge.

Players using devices for personal communication may even find their information being leaked and made public against their will.

Baseball’s Cybersecurity Strategies

So, what are teams doing to keep their phones, devices, and data secure? A multi-layered approach to cybersecurity is required.

Mobile Device Management and Policies

One of the first lines of defense is robust mobile device management and strict BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies for players and personnel. 

Many teams require the use of approved, company-issued mobile devices rather than allowing personal phones and tablets to access team networks and data. 

Those approved devices have security policies, encryption, remote wipe capabilities, and other protection measures enforced by the club's IT staff. 

Personal devices that don't meet security requirements may be blocked from accessing certain team systems and data stores.

Players and staffers are also given thorough cybersecurity training to learn how to spot potential phishing schemes, practice good cyber hygiene, and keep their devices secured. 

In today's world, cybersecurity awareness is critical at all levels of an MLB organization.

Advanced Threat Detection

In addition to securing endpoints like phones and laptops, teams also employ advanced threat detection tools and monitoring to proactively identify potential breaches or hacking attempts. 

Behavioral analytics can spot anomalies that could signal a compromised device or unauthorized access attempt.

MLB teams also work closely with cybersecurity experts and firms to continuously audit their systems, hunt for threats, and quickly respond to any incidents that may occur. 

Many have interdepartmental teams dedicated to collaborating on cybersecurity strategy and incident response.  

Encryption and Access Controls  

Any data being transmitted between a player's phone and a team's servers or cloud storage is encrypted to prevent interception or snooping by bad actors. 

Teams also make heavy use of access controls, requiring multi-factor authentication and limiting data access only to those with a specific need.

Within team facilities and offices, next-generation firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and other defensive tools, create secured network environments to reduce the risks of breaches or malware infiltration.

Continued Vigilance and Investment

Despite their best efforts, the reality is that baseball teams will always remain prime targets for cyber threats. 

This is due to the lucrative nature of the sport, the high-value data and information they possess, and the competitive drive for any advantage over rivals.

Cybersecurity requires constant vigilance, continued investment in advanced security solutions, and an organizational commitment to protecting data - from the team's private server rooms to the smartphone in every player's pocket.

In today's digital world, the cyber battleground is as important for MLB teams as the battles waged on the field between the foul lines. 

Robust mobile security, anti-phishing training, encryption, and advanced threat monitoring are essential to prevent unauthorized access, data breaches, and the damages they can inflict. 

Guarding proprietary baseball ops data, scouting reports, and personal player information is a 21st-century game that all teams must take seriously.  

The cybersecurity battle is never over, but by implementing strong defense-in-depth strategies and keeping phones, devices, and networks secured, MLB franchises can reduce the risks. 

That way, they can focus on winning through skill and strategy - rather than falling victim to malicious hacking campaigns.

Protecting Player Privacy and Safety 

Another major cybersecurity concern for baseball teams goes beyond the potential theft of proprietary data and competitive information. 

Players' personal privacy, safety, and even physical security could potentially be jeopardized by cybercriminals accessing their location data, travel plans, or other sensitive details.

Smart stadium entry systems, GPS apps used for travel, health and wellness trackers, and other technologies that teams rely on could become vulnerability points. 

A bad actor gaining unauthorized access to a player's device could potentially track their real-time location, put them at risk of stalking, or even open up opportunities for other criminal activities.  

This is why strict mobile device management policies that separate personal apps and data from team resources is so important. 

It creates an "air gap" that prevents crossover between the two environments and reduces the potential attack surface for threats to player privacy and safety.

Every player should regularly ask themselves, “Is my phone hacked?” in order to remain vigilant and aware of the signs.

Stadiums and teams also constantly integrate more IoT devices, smart technologies, and interconnected systems. 

Having a cohesive cybersecurity strategy that covers all potential digital risk areas will only become more critical. 

Protecting the human elements of the game, not just the competitive data, is essential.

The Final Score

The cyber risks MLB teams face aren't just theoretical - they're backed by very real and enticing potential payouts for bad actors looking to strike it big.

Baseball's digital future depends on getting cybersecurity right at all levels, from the latest smart ballpark technologies all the way down to the phone each player carries in their back pocket. 

With commitment, vigilance, and an organizational culture of cybersecurity awareness, teams can stay ahead of the cyber curve and keep their ops running smoothly.


Photo by Pixabay from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-of-baseball-pitcher-in-20-jersey-about-to-throw-ball-163487/

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-of-baseball-pitcher-in-20-j...

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About Chris Sloan

Chris Sloan is a former baseball league commissioner and travel baseball coach who has made significant contributions to the sport. In 2018, he founded selectbaseballteams.com, a website that helps parents find youth and travel baseball teams in their local areas. Since its launch, the website has experienced impressive growth, offering a wealth of resources including teams, news, tournaments, and organizations. Chris's unwavering passion for baseball and his innovative approach to connecting parents with quality baseball programs have earned him a respected reputation in the baseball community, solidifying his legacy as a leading figure in the world of youth and travel baseball.

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